According to a Washington Post analysis, last year’s race for state delegate in Newport News, Virginia – eventually determined a tie and decided by picking a name from a hat – could have seen a different outcome were it not for 26 voters accidentally assigned to the wrong district.
Republican David Yancey appeared to take the win on election day by ten votes, but Democrat Shelly Simonds took victory by a single vote in a recount.
After a judicial panel concluded there was a tie, Yancey won his seat when his name was pulled from a hat.
At the time, no one knew there were 26 voters who had cast a ballot in the wrong district.
The misassigned voters lived in a predominantly African American precinct that heavily favored Democrats in the fall, raising the possibility that they would have delivered the district to Simonds had they voted in the proper race.
The impact of a Simonds win would have been felt far beyond Newport News.
It would have upended the balance of power in the House of Delegates, splitting the chamber down the middle — 50 Republicans and 50 Democrats. Yancey’s victory allowed the GOP to maintain control by a 51-to-49 margin, even after Democrats picked up 15 seats in a blue wave widely seen as a rebuke to President Trump.
John “B.T.” March, spokesman for the Republican Party of Virginia, pointed his finger at the Democrats, who have controlled the Department of Elections and local electoral boards, saying Virginians should be more worried about the “incompetence of Democrat-majority governance” than Russian interference in American elections.
But others believe it is heavily gerrymandered maps that cause the administrative headaches which lead to such mistakes.
Brian Cannon, executive director of the redistricting reform group OneVirginia2021, said problems like these threaten to undermine confidence in the electoral system. He faults not registrars, but legislators from both parties, saying highly gerrymandered political maps fracture communities for political advantage, not administrative ease.
“They’re asking [registrars] to perform a high-wire act,” Cannon said. “It’s a near-impossible task. Even if you get it right 99.9 percent of the time, it’s really not good enough for the 26 voters who ended up voting in the wrong election.”
The Post determined that 17 of the 26 wrongly-assigned voters were likely to vote Democrat, based on their histories in prior Democratic primaries.
That is more than enough to have handed last year’s election to Simonds.